In an effort to start posting again, I've decided to comment on the number of books related to playing (and understanding) Dungeons and Dragons. This seems to be a fairly new trend at the bookstores around here, and I thought I'd give the reader my off the cuff, inside track, (probably misinformed) opinions on a related note.
The first thing one needs to know about Dungeons and Dragons (or D+D): There are different general versions (or editions) of the game. Depending on who you ask, there are 4 to 10 (or more) official editions of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Each edition revolves around three main rule books called the Core Rules. Briefly, they are: The Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. The editions are separated further, by publishing dates, which are further separated by their respective print runs, since Dungeons and Dragon is also divided up into various levels of play (for example, there's a string of books outlining everything from the so-called Basic Version of The Game to the more Advanced Version of The Game). If I had to spit-ball a timeline, (and keep things simple), I'd say that it breaks down into something like this: 1st edition: 1974-1984, 2nd edition:1985-1998, 3rd edition: 2000-2005, and 4th edition: 2007-2013+. Each version "revises" (I'm using that term loosely) The Game.
Side note: Some people in D+D circles will refer to it as "The Game" because the rule sets can conceivably incorporate every other game ever invented. For example, if you wanted to write a D+D game where one of the players had to win a game of chess against death, in order to save the other players, you could put on a death's robe, pull out a chess board and play, while the other players read / perform a short script you've written out, resulting in some kind of conflict / resolution type scenario (concerning their fates or not), depending on what chess pieces are moved by the player playing against you (dressed up like death). If you lived in Berkley in 1986 (and had enough cocaine), and you wanted to write a game like that, there are rules to help you do that. That's how flexible the rules are. While other cross-gaming techniques have been worked into The Game over the past decades, it's core rules / game designs can easily lend itself to almost any other game. And believe me, this is intentional: Card games (and various types of Gambling Games) have been built into the D+D rules since the early years.
Each edition tries to keep that flexibility, while trying to appeal to a larger, younger audience. As a result, you get these subsets of people who only play 1st edition rules, or 3rd, or 4th editions rules. It may seem odd to the non-gamer, but sometimes you'll run into die-hard players who only enjoy playing the Basic Version of The Game, while another prefers playing the Advanced Version. In the past, there have been fights about which edition is better, which is legit, which is the worst etc. It can get ugly. Even today, the reception for the newest incarnation of the game (dubbed by Wizards of the Coast as D+D Next, or, as the rest of us say, the 5th edition) has been getting mixed reviews around my parts. Some folks are really looking forward to it. Others hate it.
This is pretty typical. From 1984-1994, there were all sorts of off-shoots of the game, and the results were similar. I think it started with Greyhawk, but for me personally, it was when TSR put out it's Forgotten Realm series. When that arrived, my gaming group was split down the middle, between those who played it, and those that would never play it. When they put out the Gothic Horror Version of the game (Ravenloft), some people loved it, others didn't. When it's Science Fiction Version (Star Frontiers, and later, Spelljammer) arrived, some gamers went for the ride, others jumped ship. It's strange, because you don't get this kind of reaction with other games. We all enjoy the occasional game of Crazy 8's, Backgammon, Yahtzee, and Clue etc. But with D+D, it's a love / hate kind of thing. And so, for our purposes, (and as a form of short hand), I'll just say that there are four official editions of "The Game". The other six to eight official editions are off shoots from the main four. Although, on the web, that's debatable. For example, one gamer refuses to buy the Dungeon Master's Guide: Book 2, and Monster Manual 3 for the 3.5 rules, while the other one has them all.
The other problem: Because there are so many different editions of "The Game", the players are anywhere between 10 to 60 years old. Players usually prefer the edition they grew up with, but they also tend to be a cross-pollinating group of people, and (contrary to the above paragraph) are also into other types of role playing games, which essentially grew out of the flexible rule sets of early 1st and 2nd editions of Dungeons and Dragons. This also proves the old saying: Any role playing game you make is based in the Dungeon and Dragons rule set, so you are essentially playing D+D. Whether you call it 'hit points', or Hits to Kill (HTK), or life level points, it's generally the same thing.
In my previous posting, (A Couple Weeks After Free RPG Day), I explained that there are games for every type of genre now-a-days: Western, Mystery (murder dinner train tours), ones based on different types of movies (James Bond role playing game) etc. And how it "ties in" with live action role playing games ( or LARPS : think Renaissance Fairs, Civil War re-enactors) and the "cos play" (costume design) hobbyist etc. And what a strange trip it's been growing up with a pen and paper, dice based strategy game, that eventually turned into actual medieval (pretend) warfare.
And now, on the Internet, there are the 'movers and the shakers' that are trying to keep their edition of the game intact. I'm including myself here, to some extent. Mainly, because they have all of this material they want to post - not for materialistic gain, but rather, for the love of the hobby,(which is semi conscious code for 'freedom of speech' or 'fandom fiction' here). And some of them, love The Game. I mean , I like the game, but some of these guys are really into it. And they have the money to spend on it, because it's not cheap! Each rule book, from each edition, will set you back $30.00 to $40.00 (or more), and that's just for starters. It's kind of like a cult in that way. Once you pay your initial 100 bucks, (and become indoctrinated), your hooked. You'll buy whatever supplemental rule book they put out, at 20, or 30 bucks a pop. Before you know it, you have a room full of D+D book case(s) and your 1000s of dollars poorer. The irony: If you get too depressed and need to take your mind off of things, I may have just the game for you...